Atop an enormous, grayish-brown extinct volcano in the Realm of Unbounded Desolation.
Zhao Shanling appeared out of thin air, grabbing Nie Tian's arm with one hand.
Releasing Nie Tian, he took a deep breath, then with an enjoyable expression, he said, "It's been four years. I'm finally back."
From the look of it, even though he was very keen on leaving the Domain of the Falling Stars, he actually had emotional ties with this piece of land deep down.
Bright stars shone in the night sky that looked like the depths of the ocean. It was dead silent in this entire area.
Standing atop one of the extinct volcanoes, Nie Tian gazed off into the distance and couldn't see a single living being. All he could see were more extinct volcanoes that had long since run out of their earthflame essence.
His eyebrows rose as he shrewdly discovered that a curious attractive force was born from within the Nine Stars Flower, which had taken root at the bottom of his vortex of star power.
Meanwhile, chilly starlight started streaming down from the heavens.
Each and every one of the Nine Stars Flower's blossoms spread wide, as if they were becoming increasingly vigorous as they were bathed in starlight.
After a close examination, he discovered to his surprise that the Nine Stars Flower was quietly channeling starlight into its blossoms.
His eyes lit up. "What the hell...?!"
Afterwards, he explained the strange phenomenon to Zhao Shanling, "The Nine Stars Flower didn't show any special features when it first took root in my spiritual sea. However, now that we've returned to the Realm of Unbounded Desolation, it has started channeling star power from the heavens on its own."
Zhao Shanling pondered briefly before saying, "The Nine Stars Flower must have been very weak or in a dormant state when you first got it. Like a badly wounded Qi warrior, it couldn't display its power in such a poor state. Now that it has recovered its strength in your spiritual sea, it has started to show its magical features again.
"If it can channel star power from the heavens on its own now, why don't you try to channel star power from Star Stones and see if it'll still steal refined star power from you?"
"Good idea!" With these words, Nie Tian took out a handful of Star Stones and activated his Fragmentary Star Incantation to channel power from them.
In the next moment, his eyes lit up.
He found, to his surprise, that the efficiency of him channeling star power from the Star Stones had improved significantly.
Not just that, but he also discovered that as he activated the Fragmentary Star Incantation, the bright stars in the heavens also seemed to be influenced. Star power streamed down from all directions, pouring into his vortex of star power.
One drop of stardew after another rapidly came to form at the bottom of his vortex of star power.
As Zhao Shanling had said, the Nine Stars Flower no longer absorbed the stardew he generated.
Then, it occurred to him that Master Voidspirit's realm was a unique heaven and earth that was isolated from this starry river. He hadn't had any access to the stars in there even if he had wanted it.
Perhaps this was the reason why the Nine Stars Flower had been forced to absorb the stardew he had formed and use it to nourish itself back to health.
Now that he had returned to the normal world, the Nine Stars Flower, which had already recovered its strength, had a new source of energy: the countless shining stars in the boundless starry river.
The corner of Nie Tian's mouth was gradually filled with a smile as he watched one drop of stardew after another come to form at the bottom of his vortex of star power.
He hadn't expected that the problem that had bothered him for a long time would solve itself upon his return.
As far as he had noticed, the Nine Stars Flower's existence in his spiritual sea could greatly improve his efficiency of channeling power from Star Stones and the stars in the depths of the heavens.
Thanks to this, the efficiency of his star power cultivation would improve severalfold.
From now on, his cultivation of star power would be faster than his cultivation of other powers.
"This perk alone is brilliant," Nie Tian muttered, joy filling his face. "No wonder powerful experts from the Ancient Fragmentary Star Palace searched for them upon their arrival in the Domain of the Falling Stars. A Nine Stars Flower can surely give a strong boost to a cultivator who practices the Fragmentary Star Incantation. It's like giving a tiger a set of wings."
Watching him smile heartily, Zhao Shanling said, "What did I tell you? I told you that mysterious plants like the Nine Stars Flowers will show their curious features as time passes."
Nie Tian nodded repeatedly, looking overjoyed.
Zhao Shanling waved his hand at him, beckoning for him to calm down, saying, "Alright, you'll have plenty of time to cultivate in the future. According to my calculations, four years have passed since we went to that space disruption zone. We'd better find out if any major changes have taken place in the Domain of the Falling Stars during this time."
With these words, Zhao Shanling created a spatial rift with a casual flick of his sleeve and dragged Nie Tian into it.
Before long, the two of them appeared in front of the magnificent volcano where the Tool Sect's headquarters was located.
A number of stone pavilions stood at the foot of the volcano. They were normally used as temporary residences for visitors from the other sects.
Most powerful Qi warriors from all over the Domain of the Falling Stars would be arranged to live there when they came to the Tool Sect to purchase spiritual tools or discuss other matters.
Only those who had close ties with the Tool Sect, like Zhen Huilan, would be invited to stay in the Tool Sect's headquarters.
Standing on the barren crimson land, Zhao Shanling's expression grew grim as he examined the stone pavilions from afar.
An icy light appeared his eyes as he squinted at the buildings. "This is strange. There aren't any Tool Sect disciples here. Instead, these buildings are guarded by some Thunder Mountain Sect disciples. Can it be that the Thunder Mountain Sect has sacked the Tool Sect after we left? That doesn't seem to be likely. Lei Zhenyu from the Thunder Mountain Sect has the same cultivation base as my senior martial brother. What did he rely on to take the Tool Sect?"
Nie Tian was also rather confused. "Considering the Thunder Mountain Sect's strength, it's not likely that they could sack the Tool Sect by themselves."
"Don't worry," Zhao Shanling said "Someone's coming. I'll catch him and ask him about it."
Nie Tian could tell that he had grown angry.
He knew that Zhao Shanling still had a sense of belonging towards the Tool Sect. After all, the Tool Sect had raised him and made him who he was today.
The fact that he had established a gravestone in his secret valley and that he had been filled with regret standing before it proved that he still had feelings for his master and the Tool Sect.
Even though he had threatened Qi Bailu and forced him to kneel before him, admit that he was wrong, and give up the position of the sectmaster of the Tool Sect, now that they had won, he hadn't demanded that it be done.
Furthermore, after his extended private conversation with Zhen Huilan, he had eventually agreed to seal the six spatial rifts in the Realm of Split Void.
All of this indicated that, even though the Tool Sect had considered Zhao Shanling a traitor and a sinner, deep down, he still considered himself a member of the Tool Sect.
Right now, he was infuriated upon seeing that the Thunder Mountain Sect was guarding the Tool Sect's properties.
Zhao Shanling quickly grabbed Nie Tian and flew off into the distance. In the blink of an eye, they stopped right in front of a Thunder Mountain Sect disciple. Zhao Shanling caught him by his lapel and asked with an icy tone, "Why are there disciples of your sect in the Tool Sect?"
The young man seemed to be on his way back to the Tool Sect's headquarters from Desolate City.
Shortly afterwards, his expression flickered as he recognized Zhao Shanling and Nie Tian. "Z-zhao Shanling! Nie Tian!"
Even though he was caught, he spoke holding his head high.
Both Zhao Shanling and Nie Tian had attended the victory convention that had been held in the spacious square in the Thunder Mountain Sect, so many Thunder Mountain Sect disciples had seen the two of them in person.
They had swept away all of the most valuable items that had been looted from the outsiders under everyone's gaze, which had left a very deep impression on the Thunder Mountain Sect disciples.
However, even though the man had already recognized Zhao Shanling and Nie Tian, he still held a tough stance.
"Let me go!" he shouted. "Times have changed. You can't do whatever you want in the Domain of the Falling Stars anymore. We, the Thunder Mountain Sect, rule the Domain of the Falling Stars now!
"If you're smart, let go of me and come see our seniors with me, so you can return the valuables you seized years ago!"
Zhao Shanling smiled, as if he were amused by the man, then he turned to Nie Tian and said, "I can't believe that a Heaven stage junior actually dares to talk to me like this! I wonder what gave him the courage and confidence."
With these words, a wisp of soul awareness that was laced with spatial power flew out of Zhao Shanling's eyes and shot directly into the young man's soul.
Since this wasn't Master Voidspirit's realm, Zhao Shanling could use his spiritual power and soul power freely. Facing such a Heaven stage junior, he didn't even need to torture him for information. He could simply pry into his soul and learn everything he wanted from his memories.
Zhao Shanling's soul awareness flashed back and forth within the man's mind, capturing clusters of glowing light, which held his memories.
In a very profound way, he rapidly extracted the information he needed from the man's memories.
As pieces of information flew back to his mind, Zhao Shanling's face grew increasingly grim.
Moments later, as the man's soul crumbled and he collapsed to the ground, Zhao Shanling had obtained all the information he needed.
Gazing up at the magnificent volcano that used to belong to the Tool Sect, Zhao Shanling said, "He was telling the truth, Nie Tian. The Thunder Mountain Sect has indeed become the ruler of the Domain of the Falling Stars. Heaven-shaking, earth-toppling changes took place in the Domain of the Falling Stars during these years when we were gone. Powerful sects from the Domain of Heaven's Boundaries have traveled across the starry river and descended upon our domain."